Record Number of Patent Applications Drive Translation Demand

Patent translation is big business. The world’s most valuable listed LSP and global top 5 by revenue, RWS, generates a third of its sales from IP translations and related services. Patents are a major driver of translations since national patent offices often require corporations to translate patents and related documentation into the local language(s). Language service providers (LSPs) develop specialized solutions to support customers through rigorous patent application and filing processes.

The number of patent submissions continues to climb: WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization based in Geneva, has recently published its figures for 2018, revealing the top countries and top companies for patent applications.

There were more than 250,000 patent applications filed with WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) in 2018, up nearly 4% from 2017. While the US still topped the list of countries for most patent applications in 2018, the number actually fell from 2017. China, meanwhile, is hot on the heels of the US, growing 9.1% from 2017.

The top 10 countries for PCT applications in 2018 were as follows:

The top 10 companies for PCT applications in 2018 were as follows:

WIPO Translation Spend and NMT Investment

Along with the many companies requiring translation in order to file their patent applications, there is internal translation demand at WIPO, which is managed by WIPO’s Language Division. The Language Division oversees translation of everything from treaties and legislative texts to meeting reports and committee documents.

WIPO increased provision for the outsourcing of translation in 2018/2019 across multiple areas of strategic priority in its 2018/2019 budget released in 2017. There was an extra CHF 1m (USD 1m) made available for the outsourcing of translation for Conference and Language Services and an extra CHF 7.7m for the outsourcing of translation for the PCT.

The 2018/2019 budget also provided for increases in non-personnel resources for translation costs and the improvement of NMT technology for WIPO Translate, its publicly available translation tool designed for patent documents.

Translation continues to be a strategic imperative as WIPO seeks to improve “WIPO Translate using Neural Machine Translation technology” and ultimately to “pursue proactive procurement approaches and rapid adoption of new technologies, to reduce increases in translation cost.”

The 2018/2019 budget aims to maintain the unit translation cost from 2016, a very expensive CHF 0.55 per word for conference and language services.  

WIPO may well be wary of compromising quality for cost since they observed that “a slight drop in quality to 86 per cent resulted from efforts to reduce costs via post-editing,” in 2016/2017.

PEMT Production Pilot

Meanwhile on the supplier side, RWS recently updated investors on its progress in rolling out machine translation across its Patent Translation and Filing division. “RWS staff translation team are in PEMT production pilot,” the October 2018 presentation read.

“Test results show significant productivity gains for junior translators, but are less persuasive for seniors,” RWS found. The UK-based LSP said post-editing is now a component in some RFPs they participate in, but concluded that the IP and patents industry is still “inherently change-averse.”

RWS generated a third of its total GBP 306m revenues for 2018 through its Patent Translation & Filing division (GBP 102m), and another GBP 9.7m through its Patent Information division.

The patent boom continues to underpin RWS’ profits and supports the LSP’s share price, which is trading near record highs.

RWS is not the only large LSP with a focus on patent translation: Morningside Translation and Welocalize (through the Park IP acquisition) both operate patent divisions designed to facilitate the complex patent application filing process.

Then there’s MultiLing, an IP- and patent-focused LSP with around USD 40m in 2018 revenues.  MultiLing was acquired by Questel, an IP software and services provider, in September 2018. Questel coordinates patent filing for its customers, which includes research and analysis of patents, trademarks, and designs. An internal translation service adds another string to Questel’s bow.

Asian Patent Boom

“Asia-based innovators filed more than half of all international patent applications via WIPO for the first time in 2018 on significant growth from China, India and the Republic of Korea,” the WIPO release stated. As WIPO figures highlight, there is lots happening in Asia when it comes to patent applications, and LSPs would do well to latch on to this boom.

The RWS crystal ball predicted growth in China as far back as 2015, according to their 2018 annual report. “China shows every sign of fulfilling the strategic growth potential we envisaged in 2015,” the report read. RWS also said that growth in China led them to put extra bodies on the ground, and they now have around 300 staff there.

RWS underlined the importance of China, which “continues to be our long-term strategic revenue growth market [since] the region continues to attract North American and European patent filers seeking patent protection there.”